The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) have submitted a shadow report to the United Nations CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee.

Singapore acceded to CEDAW in 1995. Countries who are party to CEDAW commit themselves to developing policies and regulatory frameworks that respect and promote the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all women, including taking appropriate measures to suppress the exploitation and trafficking of women. The Singapore government, as a signatory to CEDAW, has to submit a report every four years detailing how it has complied with the provisions of the Convention, which condemns discrimination against women in all its forms. As organizations that advocate for the rights and protection of migrant domestic workers (MDWs), HOME and TWC2 have partnered to submit its own shadow report detailing its concerns on the status of MDWs, a sizeable yet marginalized community of women in Singapore.

Our report focuses largely on employment discrimination, access to justice and the role of recruitment agencies in exploiting them. The exclusion of domestic workers from the Employment Act has meant that basic labour rights which are granted to all employees, such as limits to working hours, public holidays, annual leave and sick leave are denied to them. Even though the government legislated a weekly day off for domestic workers, the majority of women still do not get time off and are pressured into forgoing their rest days in lieu of compensation. This is especially so for those who are still paying off their recruitment fees.

Employers also have the ability to restrict the occupational mobility of MDWs within Singapore. Unless the employer is willing to sign a letter of consent to allow the MDW to switch employers, she has little choice but to be repatriated. This causes many workers to endure abusive and exploitative working conditions.

Wage rates are dismally low, particularly for MDWs from countries such as India and Myanmar. At HOME’s helpdesk, the salaries of MDWs range from S$350 (USD 258) at the lower end, to around S$650 (USD 479) per month. With average working hours of 13 hours a day, this would translate to an average wage rate of S$1 (USD 0.75) an hour to S$1.90 (USD 1.40) an hour.

The lack of enforceable minimum wage guidelines leave MDWs vulnerable to long-term economic exploitation, where their wages remain depressed and do not reflect increased costs of living as well as the inflated placement costs incurred in overseas labour migration.

Agents in Singapore continue to charge usurious rates, amounting to as much as 10 months of MDWs’ salary. This traps them in a cycle of debt and makes it difficult for them to leave abusive and exploitative conditions. In the worst-case scenarios, they are victims of human trafficking and forced labour.

Food deprivation, verbal abuse, long working hours and poor living conditions are among some of the top complaints we receive from MDWs. Singapore’s Employment of Foreign Manpower Act is not able to tackle these problems effectively because the regulations are worded in vague and uncertain terms, leading to enforcement that is patchy, erratic and inconsistent.

See also TWC2 joins two shadow reports on Cedaw